Opinion, WoW

Blizzard and the changing of plans

Is that even an appropriate title?  “Plans” sounds awfully specific and organised.  Maybe it’s not fair to call what Blizzard puts out through their casual PR engine “plans”.  I’m talking about the stuff disseminated through “blue posts”, panels at BlizzCon, interviews with the sorts of people who do interviews, that sort of thing. I’m increasingly aware that what Blizzard say they’ll do and what Blizzard do do does not always correlate.

Do do do do do.  Sometimes it’s like I’m humming a little diddy up here.

Cases in point: some high profile Cataclysm intentions as stated in various sources, and actual recent developments.

Announcement: Several smaller raids per tier instead of one big raid

Outcome: Tier 11 – three raids, one fairly lengthy but still shorter than anything since ToC.  So that’s a check.  Tier 12 – one raid, only seven bosses but with lots of delicious trash to fill in the edges.  Tier 13 – assumed to be a single raid on Deathwing.

Announcement: Firelands in 4.1

Outcome: Firelands put back until 4.2

Announcement: Abyssal Maw & War of the Ancients raids

Outcome: Abyssal Maw cut, WotA turned into a 5-man

I could go on to litanise variously minor deviations from what players were led to expect, but hopefully you get what I mean already.  The few examples listed, as many have pointed out, potentially paint a picture of a company whose intentions outstrip their capacity.  I approved of Blizzard’s stated reasons for delaying Firelands, but a delay is a delay is a delay.  Do do do do do.  I considered putting “faster patch release schedule” up there too, actually, but that’s something that they seem to be achieving compared with the same period two years ago – albeit by releasing 4.1 without new raid content, then releasing the intended 4.1 content as patch 4.2 a couple of months later.

On the failure of Cataclysm or lack thereof

So Firelands was delayed, and was released as a single raid instance instead of the previously intended two or three.  About which I wouldn’t give two figs if that content was well paced and worth waiting for, and many folks feel that 4.2 was exactly that.  But in some ways, Firelands and the Molten Front are the reason that I’ve finally stopped playing WoW.  Not because it’s bad content, but – somewhat pathetically- because I hate the aesthetic of the Firelands, and the entire patch is suffused with that single aesthetic.  The quests, the raid, the gear, the bosses, the trash, the abilities, everything.  Everything is basically either browny-black or orangey-orange.  Orange bosses fire off orange abilities that you need to dodge in orange gear.  I’m a fickle, shallow person who likes pretty things.  And getting Firelands with only Molten Front to accompany it was a deathknell for someone already burning out on the game.  Had we had a beautiful, sumptuous, watery, Throne-of-the-Tides-esque Abyssal Maw raid to complement Firelands, perhaps I’d have been able to tolerate raiding longer.  Perhaps I’d even have been able to force myself to do daily quests.  Perhaps not – perhaps those are just excuses.

I’ve seen a lot of commentary recently, in response to Cataclysm’s failure to meet Blizzard’s hopes for reinvigorating the game and reversing WoW’s gradual loss of subscribers, suggesting that the “failure” is because too much time was spent on pre-80 levelling content instead of 80-85 content.  Which I think is stuff and nonsense.  Is having more zones to grind through in order to reach the endgame really what most of us enjoy most about a new expansion?  I mean maybe at first, but it gets pretty tedious pretty fast, no?  I mean, surely if anything, Cataclysm’s only failure in this regard was its inattention to the 60-80 content creating a gap in the levelling experience.  Rather, if Cataclysm falls short, surely it’d be in its bondage to mechanics – especially questing mechanics – which were innovative 5 years ago but are now dated and saturated?  And even then, I only stopped doing the new dailies after I opened the Molten Front, because not only am I pretty fed up with daily quests and grindyness in general, but having to do them in that environment and with scores of other players was the pits for me.

So we’re clear, I’m talking about the bad kind of pits.  With the fire and the torment and stuff.  And Molten Front is all about the fire and the torment and the stuff.

Cataclysm also shipped with a good amount of 5-man and raiding content, which can’t be blamed in any way for its lower-than-hoped-for success, except in that once again it was all just a bit too familiar for some parts of a community that’s been doing the same thing for 5 years.  And I enjoyed the addition of the two Zuls as revamped heroic 5-mans, the quality of which is pretty hard to criticise.

On the sacredness of cows and the sacrifice thereof

What’s far more interesting than this “failure” – which seems a remarkably disingenuous term for a game which still boasts millions of subscribers and must be making staggering amounts of money – is this trend towards Blizzard doing something other than what they said they’d do.  Why is that?  Is it because their proverbial eyes are larger than their proverbial mouths?  Or, to use a less consumptive metaphor, are their ideas just grander than what their development team can actually pull off?  No, you’re right – that’s not a metaphor.  It is, however, one possible explanation.

Another is more cynical, and strenuously denied by Blizzard themselves: that all their resources are being poured into Diablo, Starcraft, Titan and that other game they’re doing which I can’t remember.  I’m in no position to comment on this.  Blizzard say that WoW is not suffering for their efforts on other games, that their WoW team is bigger than ever (or something to that effect), and so forth.  We either believe them or we don’t.  Perhaps, to direct our hypothetical cynicism elsewhere, Blizzard is not wearing the proverbial trousers when it comes to allocating resources and planning content for their now rather elderly and somewhat less sparkly flagship MMO.  Activision conspiracy theories are ten a penny on the WoW forumsphere.

Or what if we factor in the steady march of sacred cows which have been sacrificed on the altar of – well, I’m not sure what the altar would be, or where this metaphor is going.  Maybe I should stop using metaphors.  The point is, Blizzard have expressed considerable displeasure with a number of ideas over the years which they’ve then changed their mind about.  Transmogrification is the most recent example, with its effects on the holy silhouette cow being perhaps the most remarkable.  The speculated introduction of Pandaran as a playable race either neutral or available to both factions would be another if it turns out to have any substance.  Allowing transfers from PvE to PvP realms is a famous historical example.  Faction transfers, character recustomisations, the entire in-game mount/pet store – Blizzard is not shy of doing something it said it wouldn’t do if circumstances change.  Whether that’s good or bad depends on whether the individual decision is justified, and I reckon most of their “reversals” (if it’s even fair to call them that) have been very well received by players.

I wonder, is there any relation between this willingness to change their mind about sacred cows and the sometimes dramatic divide between previously stated intentions (like multiple raids in 4.1) and eventual delivery?  Are Blizzard playing it fast and loose, watching what’s going on and changing their plans on-the-fly to accommodate new data?  Is it all part of an overall plan for quality of gameplay über alles?

On ditties and the humming thereof

I’d like to believe that!  I just, well, I don’t know, though.  As a layman with no insight on Blizzard or its industry, I can’t know.  I don’t like all of the stuff that Blizzard does.  It’d be weird if I did, because just shy of 12 million people apparently play the game and it’s ridiculous to hope that even one of them would be completely satisfied with the entire product.  Recently, I’ve liked less and less of what WoW has provided, or failed to provide, but a lot of that could just be explained by a combination of burnout and saturation – for a game to hold my attention non-stop for 6 years with no serious complaints transcends impressive and verges on farcical.

So I’m torn between a bias towards wanting to believe the best of Blizzard and hope that they come up with stuff I’ll love to bits, and a contrary bias of wanting to believe the worst because I’ve burned out on WoW and started to notice more and more of the stuff I dislike about it.  But ultimately, it makes no difference which direction I’m pulled in, because I don’t know and can’t know what’s going on with them.  Only time will offer any sort of a clue as to why they do what they do.

Do do do do do.

Maybe it doesn’t ultimately matter.  When all the arguments of artistic merit, talent and intent are worn out, I suppose even the humblest little tune really just comes down to what you make of it.



7 thoughts on “Blizzard and the changing of plans

  1. Oh, I love to read great writing. Thank you. I wrote my own viewpoint coincidentally, and it doesn’t even compare. Now I’ll just be thinking “orangy-orange” during dailies. (Maybe if I think the fire elementals are Hare Krishnas assaulting me at airports with pamphlets, it won’t be so bad? Or Jack-O-Lanterns seeking vengence? Maybe breakfast juice gone wrong? Oompa-loompas on a rampage? Okay, I’ll stop.)

    Posted by Matty | August 22, 2011, 6:01 pm
  2. I guess I’m less aesthetically-minded than you, because I never really noticed the limited palette in 4.2 – but the small, short tier was a bit disappointing. The fights themselves are very good, but 4.3 already in the works and the end of Cataclysm around the corner? It just seems so brief.

    Posted by Gorbag | August 22, 2011, 6:53 pm
    • A friend of mine who’s in computer graphics was pointing out to me the other day (I still get dragged into the odd raid when they’re short on numbers) just how well-crafted and detailed a lot of the Firelands monsters are. I feel almost bad for not finding myself able to really like it, but that’s probably a symptom of burnout as much as anything else. It’s much harder to feel positive about, or come up with a positive explanation for, the “small, short tier”. It’s sort of a paradox for me: I’ve generally felt that Blizzard has been rushing too put new content out far faster than I’d really be comfortable with consuming it, and I’d have been happy for Firelands to be delayed far longer than it was… but at the same time it feels even more tiresome having to start the content treadmill again for something that seems so brief and minor, and having to suck a full tier of gear and farming and whatnot out of seven bosses in Orangey McBrownville.

      Posted by Zamir | August 25, 2011, 5:44 pm
  3. …John Boehner’s spawn….?
    (done now)

    Posted by Matty | August 22, 2011, 7:37 pm
  4. “suggesting that the “failure” is because too much time was spent on pre-80 leveling content instead of 80-85 content. Which I think is stuff and nonsense. Is having more zones to grind through in order to reach the endgame really what most of us enjoy most about a new expansion?”

    I stopped playing WoW in March for exactly this reason. I agree that revamping pre-60 content is not a bad idea, my problem is: WHAT CHARACTER SLOT do most of us have left in order to make a new toon and play this content? Most people that have been playing 5 years have no extra character slots. If Blizzard wants to spend 75% of an expansion on pre-60 zones and new races at least give us a character slot to enjoy them with. I am not going to delete one of my level 80’s nor am I going to run one of them through old content. I am also not going to pay REAL world money to do a race change. This might be nice for new players, but give your long term customers something!

    Additionally IF you are going to spend this much time on new content why not revamp ALL Pre-80 content? I can see no changes to Outlands as this is a different world, but why was Northrend not affected by the Cataclysm at all?

    All in all, I think I agree with your overall view of the situation, the game is getting tiring… doing daily quest, daily is just too much for me. I just plan on waiting for the next Big Thing like Star Wars ToR.

    Posted by Clukstank | October 14, 2011, 4:21 pm
  5. I also stopped playing WoW before 4.1 for similar reasons. I posted my reasons on EQ forums and also sent them as my reasons when turning off my WoW account. I would not mind coming back to WoW but they need to us something.

    My top 5 Reasons CATA was fail:

    1. #1 by far is no new Character slots. People that already have ten toons they are unwilling to get rid of got robbed. It is not fun running a level 80 thru level 10 content just to see it.

    2. New zones? Sure they revamped the old zones to FEEL new but they only added a small handful of actual new zones for max level toons. If you cannot create a new toon to enjoy the new-old zones you got robbed.

    3. Only five new levels. The first 85 on my server was done in about 7 hours. I had two level 85’s in the first week.

    4. Removal of portals. So player “mages” and hearthstones can still get to BC and Wrath content but for some strange reason there are no magic capable of porting the rest of us? Why even have that content anymore?

    5. No new classes. Well I guess if you only have 10 slots it doesn’t matter anyway, right BLIZ…???

    Posted by David | October 14, 2011, 5:01 pm

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